Understanding Chord Symbols?

The symbols which encapsulates the instructions for building a chord.

Published: 26 Dec 2013 Updated: 04 Apr 2022Visits: 131Code: UL42-misc-sym

Topic: Chords Instruments: ANY Ukulele Guitar Subjects: Chords • Theory • Reading • Principles • Chord • Symbols

Understanding Chord Symbols?

A chord's name is comprised of it's letter name, either A, B, C, D, E, F, or G and its chord type information symbol which encapsulates the instructions for building a chord.

C, C-, C°b9#5, CmL7

The names of chords that we encounter today are a modern construct and based chords built using intervals of thirds and their inversions. What follows in this lesson is the common and not so common names.

With a foundation of how these chords are used, harmonically, one should be able to figure out any name or names not found on this list.

  • The capital letter A, B, C, D, E, F or G is the Root or letter name of the chord.
  • The chord designation, chord type follows based on its basic triad type: Major, Minor, Diminished or Augmented. A major designation is not required for triads as this is the default chord type and the most common chord type. 4-part chords require a 7th (seventh) designation or the highest upper partial or extension ( 9, 11, 13 ) above the seventh. maj7, m7, °7, +7, maj9, m9, 11, 15, etc...
  • Followed by any alterations ( b5, #5, b9, #9, #11, b13 ) or added pitches. These can be in parentheses 9(#5) 13(b5), ...

Chord Type

Common Chord Symbols using a C root as examples.


CM, Cmaj, CMAJ, CΔ

Major is the most common chord and by default the maj or major part of the chord is rarely written or even pronounced.

The capital “M” should be avoided. Especially in its handwritten form as it is hard to distinguish between an uppercase M and the lowercase m for a minor chord.

When a major seventh interval is used with a minor triad the designation maj7 or L7 is added" Cmmaj7, CmL7. The L indicates a large seventh, i.e., major seventh. Simply a not so common but very useful shorthand when writing chords.


Cm, Cmin, C-


Cdim, C°


Caug, C+


C add2, Cadd9

add refers to adding a note to the base chord. The add is typically used with major and minor chords and represented as a number referring to the interval of the note from the chord’s corresponding scale to add to the chord.

The most common add note is a 9 or 2.


Csus, Csus4, C7sus4

sus implies the suspension of the third of a major, minor or seventh chord.

sus2 implies to substitute a second for the thirds. Traditionally NOT a true suspensions or sus but a of a 5add2 chord (see Power 5 below).

Power 5


Technically not a true chord in the traditional sense which is defined as a three or more notes played together or almost together. It's more a dyad or interval with and added note.

sus2 implies to substitute a second for the thirds. Traditionally NOT a true suspension or sus but an add2 chord or add2no3.


C7, Cdom7

Often called a Dominant Seventh Chords? chord. Dominant is a chord function and not a type. See the following lessons:

For a really through chart on building chords and the chord symbols used visit: A Guide to Advanced Chord Series - Chord Building Chart page.

End of Lesson - Thanks, Hope You Enjoyed It!

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